Friday, June 03, 2016

"The Fractured Republic"

This book by Yuval Levin is subtitled "Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism".  Levin was not familiar here until a column by David Brooks was read that praised this book.  Brooks, in his op-ed columns in the New York Times and in his appearances on PBS News Hour, is viewed by some as a resident conservative for those media outlets.  That said, he comes across as a intellectual moderate with views that many could agree with, especially when compared to the radical race to the right of the just completed Republican presidential primary campaign.

Levin is editor of "National Affairs" and a contributing editor to "National Review" and the "Weekly Standard".  Jacket cover praise for this book comes, as is not unexpected, from Paul Ryan and Peggy Noonan, but also from George Packer.  "The Fractured Republic" details the divided U.S. society that exists today, economically, socially, culturally, and politically.  That supposed bedrock of U.S. society, the middle class, has been significantly diminished in the last 20 years and in some ways only exists, according to Levin, in the minds of the right and left with a sense of nostalgia, a type of nostalgia that leads nowhere but to frustration. This book could have been written by a combination of the minds of a seriously right wing conservative intellectual and Robert Putnam.

It suggests that we are now faced with a schism in society of either an individualistic approach to our lives or a statist approach.  The already hollowed out middle class and the middle mediating layers of society have lost influence, whether that be families, communities, churches, charities, civic associations, really any organization that drives change through local or personal contact.  Solutions to many of society's problem could come from the ground up if these aspects of society could be rebuilt, into many solutions for many problems as opposed to individual solutions or central government approved or directed ones which are unlikely to be satisfying to many in our increasingly diverse culture.  The drift of the book is clear.

This is a thoughtful book, and it seems at times that there is not much to disagree with.  Levin acknowledges that he is a Republican conservative and the only politician that he regularly singles out for criticism is President Obama.  He comes off as striving to be even handed and almost apolitical in his analysis, but the elephant in the room is the outright intransigence of the Republican Congress to seriously consider anything the President proposes, even something as widely approved of by huge margins of the public such as infrastructure spending, which is becoming absolutely necessary(anyone who travels to other parts of the world know this for certain) and which would be sound fiscal policy to produce better paying jobs.  Levin somehow sees a dysfunctional Congress as a completely shared event and cites the many executive orders by Obama as an example of his unwillingness to compromise.

One other aspect of this book is Levin's constant pounding home his main themes, in many articulate ways but to the point of beating a dead horse.  This book can be almost mind numbingly repetitive at times.

With those caveats, and with a willingness to read fast at times, this is a constructive and thoughtful book.  Most of it is not new thought, but it is so much better and more studied than much of what comes out in book form from the right wing.  It makes an effort in its own way to be balanced.  There are important facts in the book that were important and not familiar here.  It was worth reading for those interested in our current deadlocked and "fractured" society.


Postscript---6/5---aspects of this book are pertinent to interpreting the strange election season of 2016.

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